New York Times
By Azam Ahmed
February 17, 2016
For most of the last several decades, Mexico has been the primary exporter of migrants to the United States. From 1965 to 2015, according to the Pew Research Center, more than 16 million Mexicans entered the United States, one of the largest mass migrations in history, igniting a debate over border security and the economic effects of immigration that has been a mainstay of American domestic politics.
Fast-forward a few presidential election cycles, and the exact same debate is underway. But now, the immigration patterns have changed drastically. This time around, Mexico arguably has more in common with the United States than the migrants.
That is in part because Mexico has become a transit route for hundreds of thousands of Central American migrants fleeing an epidemic of gang violence and a lack of economic opportunities.
In response to the record number of Salvadorans, Hondurans and Guatemalans coursing through their country, and to American pressure, the Mexican authorities are cracking down on these migrants.
In the recent past, Mexican officials let migrants pass through their territory without harassment. But now, the vigilance is intense. Under its Southern Border Plan, the Mexican government has strengthened border enforcement in the country’s southern states, with a focus on Chiapas. The increased checkpoints and patrols have forced many migrants to take new routes through the country, at greater peril.
The surge in detentions speaks for itself. In 2015, the Mexican authorities arrested more than 170,000 Central American migrants passing through the country illegally. In 2013, that figure was 70,000.
The equation for Mexican immigrants has also changed in recent years. More Mexicans are leaving the United States than are entering it, putting the brakes on the largest influx of immigrants from a single country in American history.
The data, collected by the Pew Research Center from 2009 to 2014, point to several reasons for the change, experts say. A better quality of life in Mexico after the American recession of 2008, cheaper retirement costs back home and a desire to be with family are among them.
But this change in immigration patterns, taken with Mexico’s larger role as a dragnet for Central Americans on their way to the United States, has placed Mexico inside the very debate underway in the United States.
One question is whether Pope Francis will acknowledge Mexico’s altered role on Wednesday and turn a moral high beam on it as well.
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